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From Worst to Best in Two Seasons: Oakland Oaks


Credit: Ron Riesterer (1968) - Mercury News


The Oakland Oaks would only be a part of the ABA for two seasons (1967-69). In their first season, the Oaks went 22-56 (28.2 W/L%) and ranked dead last. In the following season, the Oaks went 60-18 (76.9 W/L%) and finished with the then best regular-season record in ABA history. Not only did they have the best regular-season record, but they ended up winning the Championship!


So... how did the Oakland Oaks go from one of the worst to one of the best teams in the ABA within two seasons? Let's start with the Oaks' origins.


The Oakland Oaks were formed in 1967 by Pat Boone, Kenneth Davidson, and Dennis Murphy for $30,000. Accounting for inflation, it would have only cost the three $245,000 to buy the team in 2021. That's a steal!


Even though $245,000 for a team is exceptionally underpriced, Boone, the majority owner of the Oaks, was losing money. Even in the Oaks Championship season, the team was only bringing in 2,800 fans per game. Even the Orlando Magic, one of the smallest market teams in the NBA, brings almost 18,000 fans per game.


Continuing with Boone, you may have heard of his name as he was a famous singer in the 1950-60s. I have never listened to any of his songs, but he was the second-biggest charting artist behind Elvis Presley at one point. Here are some of the songs he has made:

  • I'll Be Home

  • Love Letters in the Sand

  • I Almost Lost My Mind

  • Ain't That a Shame

  • Moody River

Before becoming the owner of the Oakland Oaks, Boone owned a team in the Hollywood Studio League known as the Cooga Moogas. Boone was such a basketball enthusiast that at the ages of 80-84, he played for the Virginia Creepers in the National Senior Games.

Boone wasn't the only one that has an interesting backstory. Dennis Murphy was a sports entrepreneur that helped co-found numerous sports leagues:

  • American Basketball Association

  • World Hockey Association

  • World Team Tennis

  • Roller Hockey International

In addition, Murphy was also the originator of the three-point line in the ABA and the Slam Dunk Contest!


Kenneth Davidson isn't as interesting as the other two, but he was the co-owner of an ABA team, so that in itself is already really fascinating.


As for the Oakland Oaks, the team's logo consisted of an oak tree and an acorn. The team was most likely named after Oak Trees as they were an integral part of the Californian ecology back then. Oakland also used to be an oak woodland before the Spanish colonized the area.


The Oakland Oaks' biggest competitor was a team from a different league, the San Francisco Warriors. This was because the Oaks had taken the Warriors' best player, Rick Barry. The Oaks gave Barry a deal of a lifetime to play for the team.


Barry was offered a six-figure salary (this was a lot back then) and 15% of the franchise! In addition, the Oaks even offered to sign Barry's father-in-law, Bruce Hale, to coach the Oaks. The Warriors had no way of matching this offer, but what they could do was file a lawsuit... which is what they did.


The case ended in favor of the San Francisco Warriors, so Rick Barry was prevented from playing for the Oakland Oaks in the 1967-68 ABA season. If the Oaks did have Barry in their first season, then maybe the Oaks would have won back-to-back Championships! Maybe the Oaks would still be a professional basketball team to this day if they had Barry earlier!


However, that's all just situational. Let's get back into reality and see how awful the Oakland Oaks performed in their first season in the ABA.

 

Table of Contents:

 

1967-68: Actually Garbage

In their first seasons in the ABA, the Oakland Oaks went 22-56 (28.2 W/L%) and finished as the worst team in the league. What makes this 'achievement' even more impressive is that according to the Elo Rating System, accounting for every team in every professional basketball league through 2015, the 1967-68 Oaks had the second-worst regular-season performance.

Being such a horrible team, it's expected that the Oaks were bad on offense and defense. The Oaks had the second-worst offensive rating (99.7) and worst defensive rating (105.7). The team also had the worst OPPG (117.4). The only team statistics in which the Oaks were above average were PPG (110.8) and Pace (110.5).


Coach Bruce Hale

This season, the team was coached by previously mentioned Bruce Hale. Before coaching the Oakland Oaks, Hale played on several teams in the NBL and NBA:

  • Chicago American Gears (1946-47)

  • Indianapolis Kautskys (1947-48)

  • Indiannapolis Jets (1948)

  • Fort Wayne Pistons (1948-49)

  • Indianapolis Olympians (1949-51)

Within his five-season playing career, Hale would win one Championship with the Chicago American Gears in 1947.


As for his coaching career, Hale would coach the following teams:

  • Indiannapolis Jets (1948)

  • University of Miami (1954-67)

  • Oakland Oaks (1967-68)

  • Saint Mary's College (1970-73)

In his 13 seasons with the University of Miami, Hale's record was 220-112 (66.3 W/L%). Hale's best season with the University of Miami was in the 1959-60 NCAA season. The team went 23-4 (85.2 W/L%) and got eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Hale's time with Saint Mary's College was nowhere near as successful compared to his time with the University of Miami. In his three seasons with Saint Mary's, he went 26-52 (33.3 W/L%). Hale's overall record was 246-164 (60.0 W/L%).


Best Players and Big 3

Even though the Oakland Oaks were horrible, they had a lot of good players. Their best player was Levern Tart. He averaged:


26.9 Points, 6.5 Rebounds, 3.5 Assists

42.8 FG%, 77.9 FT%

42 Minutes


In that season, Tart led the league in PPG and was also selected to be an All-Star. However, 42 games into the season, the Oaks would trade away their best player to the New Jersey Americans since he didn't get along with Bruce Hale.


Although Tart was the Oaks' star player, I agree with the front office's decision for trading Tart. Tart averaged 4.6 turnovers and shot 23.4 field goal attempts per game! LeBron James, one of, if not the best player in NBA history, has NEVER had a season where he shot more than 23.4 field goal attempts. The most field goals that LeBron has attempted was 23.1 in the 2005-06 NBA season.

However, Hale would leave the team the following season, so the Oaks ended up losing Tart and Hale, so all in all, a regrettable decision.


Besides Tart, many of the Oakland Oaks' best players only played half the regular season. The third and fourth-best players, Ira Harge and Barry Liebowitz, only played 30-35 regular-season games. Willie Porter, the Oaks' sixth-best player, only played 43 games.


If the Oaks had kept all the players, they could have at least NOT have the second-worst regular-season record in professional basketball history.

Out of the players that played at least 80% of the regular season for the Oakland Oaks, the top three players were Jim Hadnot, Ronald Franz, and Steve Jones. The three averaged:

Jim Hadnot:

17.5 Points, 12.2 Rebounds, 1.8 Assists

46.7 FG%, 66.8 FT%

39 MInutes


Ronald Franz:

12.6 Points, 6.3 Rebounds, 1.7 Assists

39.2 FG%, 25.8 3P%, 69.1 FT%

28 Minutes

Steve Jones:

10.1 Points, 4.5 Rebounds, 1.5 Assists

41.8 FG%, 42.6 3P%, 79.8 FT%

26 Minutes


Don't get me wrong, these players are good, but if these are your top three players, then it's not surprising that the Oakland Oaks did as bad as they did. The Oakland Oaks' Big 3 scored less than the 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats Big 3:

  • Gerald Henderson: 15.1 Points

  • Corey Maggette: 15.0 Points

  • Kemba Walker: 12.1 Points

Surprisingly, out of the Big 3, the most successful player was the worst of the Big 3, Steve Jones. Hadnot only played one season in the ABA, and Franz would only play six. Jones ended up playing nine seasons in the ABA and was a 3x All-Star!


1967-68: Prominent Games

The Oakland Oaks' best game was on November 24th, 1967, against the Denver Rockets. The Oaks won, 113-90. This was a big upset since the Rockets ended up being the third seed in the Western Conference, and the Oaks suck. Also, out of the ten games that the Oaks went against the Rockets, they lost 70% of those games.


The Oaks' 23 point blowout win was because the role players transformed into All-Stars this game. 6/10 of the Oaks' players that played in this game scored more than ten points. Funnily enough, the Oaks best players did the worse this game:

  • Jim Hadnot: 13 Points

  • Ronald Franz: 11 Points

  • Levern Tart: 7 Points

  • Steve Jones: 3 Points

Mel Peterson, who averaged 9.5 points this season, scored 23 points this game. Willie Porter, who averaged 13.1 points this season, scored 19 points this game. Wesley Bialosuknia, who averaged 8.7 points this season, scored 14 points this game.


On the other side of the coin, the Denver Rockets' players were simply not having a good day. Only 3/10 of the Rockets' players scored more than ten points this game. The team shot 62.9% from the free-throw line.


This season, the Oakland Oaks' longest win streak was only three wins from November 16th, 1967, to November 20th, 1967. The box scores for this three-game win-streak were:

  • vs. Kentucky Colonels: 104-93

  • vs. Anaheim Amigos: 110-102

  • vs. Minnesota Muskies: 116-110

The Oakland Oaks' worst game was on November 14th, 1967, against the Pittsburgh Pipers. The Oaks lost, 98-128. This isn't surprising since the Pittsburgh Pipers were the best team in the league and were the 1967-68 Champions! I'm surprised that the margin of victory isn't even wider!


The Oakland Oaks didn't even play that bad this game. They played like how they usually played. The only notable aspect was that Andrew Anderson shot 0/6 from the field and 0/1 from the free-throw line. It's just that the Pittsburgh Pipers are really good.


The Pipers shot 48.0% from the field, and 6/11 of their players scored more than ten points:

  • Connie Hawkins: 33 Points

  • Ira Harge: 21 Points

  • Charles Williams: 18 Points

  • Chico Vaughn: 17 Points

  • Barry Liebowitz: 12 Points

  • Craig Dill: 11 Points

1968-69: Transformation

In the 1968-69 ABA season, the Oakland Oaks went 60-18 (76.9 W/L%) and finished with the best record in the league. The Oaks were extraordinary this season. They were first in offensive rating (107.9), defensive rating (100.8), PPG (126.5), and Pace (116.6). The only team statistic that the Oaks weren't first in was OPPG. They were last in OPPG (118.1).


Coach Alex Hannum

After one season with the Oakland Oaks, Bruce Hale was replaced by Alex Hannum. Like Hale, Hannum also played in the NBL and NBA:

  • Oshkosh All-Stars (1948-49)

  • Syracuse Nationals (1949-51)

  • Baltimore Bullets (1951-52)

  • Rochester Royals (1952-54)

  • Milwaukee Hawks (1954-56)

  • Fort Wayne Pistons (1956)

  • St. Louis Hawks (1956-57)

Hannum was nowhere near as good a player as Hale was, but Hannum was the better coach. Hannum coached for seven ABA/NBA teams:

  • St. Louis Hawks (1956-58)

  • Syracuse Nationals (1960-63)

  • San Francisco Warriors (1963-66)

  • Philadelphia 76ers (1966-68)

  • Oakland Oaks (1968-69)

  • San Diego Rockets (1969-71)

  • Denver Rockets (1971-74)

Throughout his 18 seasons as a head coach, Hannum was a 3x Champion, 2x NBA All-Star Head Coach, and 2x Coach of the Year. His overall record was 649-564 (53.5 W/L%).


Hannum's best season as a coach was with the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers. They went 68-13 (84.0 W/L%) and finished first in the league, and won the Championship! Hannum's best overall record with a team was also with the Philadelphia 76ers/Syracuse Nationals (which they were known as back then). In Hannum's five seasons with the 76ers/Nationals, they went 257-145 (63.9 W/L%).

Technically speaking, Hannum's best overall record with a team was with the Oakland Oaks, but Hannum would only be with the team for a season, which in my opinion, is not a large enough sample size.


Hannum's worst overall record with a team was with the San Francisco Warriors, which is kind of surprising since Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry were on the team. In his three seasons with the Warriors, they went 100-140 (41.7 W/L%).


Getting Hannum only two years after winning a Championship with the Philadelphia 76ers was one of the many moves that the Oaks' front office would make to elevate this team from one of the worst to the best in just two seasons.



The 1968-69: A Real Big 3

The Oakland Oaks didn't just replace the coach. They replaced the entire roster. Besides Andrew Anderson, Ira Harge, and Gary Bradds, everybody on the 1968-69 Oakland Oaks is different (and for the better)! Rick Barry was finally able to play for the team. However, sadly, Barry would only play 35 games before tearing his knee ligaments.


If Barry hadn't gotten injured halfway through the regular season, I wouldn't be surprised if this team won more than 70 games. In the 35 games that Barry did play, he averaged:


34.0 Points, 9.4 Rebounds, 3.9 Assists

51.1 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 88.8 FT%

39 Minutes


Due to his impressive play, Barry was selected to be an All-Star and was a part of the All-ABA First Team. He also led the league in free-throw percentage and was arguably the third-best player in the ABA during the 1968-69 season.


Even without their best player for half the season and the playoffs, the Oaks were still able to get the best record in the league and win a Championship. This just goes to show how STACKED this team was.

Last season, a majority of the Oaks' best players played less than half the regular season. This season, it's the exact opposite. 8/12 of the Oaks' players played more than 70+ games this season. Among those eight, six of them were averaging more than ten points and shot more than 43.0% from the field!


This season's top three players for the Oaks (not including Barry) were Warren Jabali, Doug Moe, and Gary Bradds. The three averaged:

Warren Jabali:

21.5 Points, 9.7 Rebounds, 3.5 Assists

44.9 FG%, 25.0 3P%, 68.4 FT%

36 Minutes


Doug Moe:

19.0 Points, 8.2 Rebounds, 2.0 Assists

43.1 FG%, 35.7 3P%, 81.1 FT%

34 Minutes

Gary Bradds:

18.7 Points, 7.7 Rebounds, 1.2 Assists

49.7 FG%, 14.3 3P%, 82.0 FT%

30 Minutes


Out of the three, only Doug Moe was selected to be in the All-Star game. Moe was also selected to the All-ABA Second Team! Funnily enough, Larry Brown, who I don't think was a top-three player for the Oaks, was selected to the All-Star game. I guess it's not too surprising since Brown led the league in assists with 7.1


In the All-Star game, Moe put up 17/7/5 and shot 53.8% from the field within 29 minutes. Pretty good. On the other hand, Brown put up 5/0/7 and shot 14.3% from the field within 25 minutes. Pretty bad.


Before joining the Oaks, Moe was a part of the New Orleans Buccaneers, where he was also an All-Star. In fact, he played even better on the Buccaneers. He averaged 24/10/3 and shot 41.3% from the field in the 1967-68 ABA season.


As for Bradds, he was a part of the Oaks in the previous season and wasn't that good, unlike Moe. He averaged 13/6/1 and shot 45.2% from the field. Bradds took a huge leap this season. The Most Improved Player award wasn't an award yet, but Bradds could have been in contention.

I saved Jabali for last because he was a ROOKIE this season! The second-best player on the team was a rookie! He was originally signed by the New York Knicks in the 1968 NBA Draft as the 44th pick but ended up getting signed by the Oaks. This was the Oaks' biggest steal.

To no one's surprise, Jabali was a part of the All-Rookie First Team and was the ABA Rookie of the Year. What IS surprising is that he wasn't selected to either All-ABA Team. Jabali wasn't even chosen to be an All-Star, and he played better than Doug Moe!


ALSO, in the future, Jabali would make the All-ABA First Team with worst stats! When he was selected to the First Team, Jabali was averaging 17/5/7 and two steals while shooting 45.3% from the field!


Out of the three, it's Jabali had the most successful ABA career. He was only in the league for seven seasons but was still a 4x All-Star, 1x Champion, 1x All-ABA First Team, 1x All-Star MVP, All-Rookie First Team, and Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, he still hasn't been inducted into the Hall of Fame.


To end the discussion related to the 'Big 3,' Rick Barry, Warren Jabali, and Doug Moe were Top 10 in MVP Voting! Barry was fifth with 70 points, Jabali was seventh with 40 points, and Moe was tenth with 20 points.

The Oakland Oaks also had some pretty excellent players outside the Big 3. As said earlier, Larry Brown was a fantastic playmaker/passer for the Oaks. He averaged 12/3/7 and shot 43.6% from the field. Jim Eakins, another rookie for the Oaks, averaged 13/7/1 and shot 54.3% from the field. ANOTHER rookie, Henry Logan, averaged 13/4/2 and shot 48.8% from the field.


The rookie signings were A+ for the Oakland Oaks.


1968-69: Best Wins and Losses

Oakland Oaks (1968-69)

The Oakland Oaks' best game was on April 1st, 1969, against the New York Nets. The Oaks won, 169-22. A 47 POINT WIN! This isn't that surprising. The New York Nets were the worst team in the league, with a 17-61 (21.8 W/L%). This also isn't surprising because the Nets have never won a game against the Oaks this season.


The reason for this 47 POINT margin of victory is because everybody on the Oaks was on fire (figuratively). Four players scored more than 20 points, and another four scored more than 10 points:

  • Gary Bradds: 28 Points

  • John Clawson: 26 Points

  • Henry Logan: 22 Points

  • Mel Peterson: 21 Points

  • Doug Moe and Warren Jabali: 17 Points

  • Ira Harge and Russell Critchfield: 12 Points

What's crazy is that the Oaks' best two players, Moe and Jabali, played the worst this game. Although they both scored 17 points, Moe shot 6/22 from the field, and Jabali shot 6/18. Even though they both shot horribly, the team still shot 52.8% from the field.

The Oakland Oaks' longest win streak was from December 10th, 1968, to January 19th, 1969. Within this month, the Oaks won 16 games in a row. This was when Rick Barry still wasn't injured. Within those 16 games, six of them were won by more than 10 points:

  • vs. Houston Mavericks: 137-116

  • vs. New Orleans Buccaneers: 144-124

  • vs. New York Nets: 131-116

  • vs. Minnesota Pipers: 120-99

  • vs. Denver Rockets: 136-115

  • vs. Los Angeles Stars: 132-106

The Oaks' worst game was on March 11th, 1969, against the Los Angeles Stars. The Oaks lost 115-131. This was a pretty embarrassing loss since the Stars were the second-worst team in the Western Conference. In addition, the Oaks won 7/10 of their games against the Stars.


The only player on the Oaks that played well this game was Gary Bradds. He put up 34/10/1 and shot 52.4% from the field and 85.7% from the free-throw line. The other two that were a part of the Big 3 shot horribly this game.

  • Doug Moe: 17 Points, 6/18 FG

  • Warren Jabali: 10 Points, 4/20 FG

Moe and Jabali weren't the only Oaks players that shot horribly this game:

  • Larry Brown: 6 Points, 1/11 FG

  • Ira Harge: 6 Points, 3/9 FG

Brown and Jabali were probably the biggest reasons why the Oaks lost as bad as they did. Shooting 20.0% from the field is already abysmal, but shooting 9.1% is straight-up garbage.


On the other hand, the Stars' players played phenomenally:

  • Larry Miller: 47/13/1, 57.6 FG%

  • Bob Warren: 27/10/5, 50.0 FG%

  • Mervin Jackson: 23/5/0, 57.9 FG%


Playoff Run

In the first round of the playoffs, the Oakland Oaks went against the third-seeded Denver Rockets. This was the lowest-ranked team the Oaks went against in the playoffs, yet it was the toughest series. The series would go to Game 7 in favor of the Oaks.

Warren Jabali was the leading scorer in Games 1-5. Throughout this series, he was averaging 29/13/2 and shot 43.5% from the field. Moe also played great in this series. He averaged 20/8/2 and shot 39.7% from the field.


The Rockets were able to force the Oaks to a Game 7 since the Rockets had better depth. No one on the Rockets was near as good as Jabali, but they didn't have to rely on one person to play well each game to guarantee a win.

In every game that the Oaks won, they won by 10+ points:

  • Game 1: 129-99

  • Game 3: 121-99

  • Game 5: 128-118

  • Game 7: 115-102

The most impressive performance in this series was by Jabali in Game 3. He put up 42/15/1 and shot 57.7% from the field and 66.7% from the free-throw line.


The second round of the playoffs was a breeze for the Oakland Oaks. They went against the second-seeded New Orleans Buccaneers and won 4-0.


Jabali carried the last series. In this series, it was all Gary Bradds. Bradds averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 44.3% from the field. His best performance was in Game 3, where he put up 33/14/2 and shot 43.5% from the field.


Although the Oaks swept the Buccaneers, the best player was Jimmy Jones of the Buccaneers. Jones averaged 32/4/6 and shot 58.2% from the field! Like Jabali, Jones was a rookie this season!

In the finals, the Oakland Oaks went against the Eastern Conference Champions, the Indiana Pacers. The Oaks would convincingly beat the Pacers, winning 4-1 and becoming the 1968-69 ABA Champions!

The Big 3 showed up in the Finals. Jabali was the best player this series and in the playoffs, but everybody played a part:

  • Warren Jabali: 33 Points, 12 Rebounds, 4 Assists

  • Gary Bradds: 24 Points, 12 Rebounds, 1 Assist

  • Doug Moe: 21 Points, 7 Rebounds, 2 Assists

Unsurprisingly, the Playoffs MVP was Jabali. Throughout the playoffs, he averaged:


28.8 Points, 12.9 Rebounds, 2.9 Assists

46.0 FG%, 17.6 3P%, 66.8 FT%

41 Minutes

Again, imagine if Rick Barry didn't get injured and played with the Oakland Oaks in the playoffs. If Jabali, Bradds, and Moe were able to go 16-4 in the playoffs, adding Barry could have made the Oaks go 16-0 in the playoffs!

The Oakland Oaks were extremely lucky to find Jabali, Bradds, and Moe when they did because once all three of them left the Oaks and played for other teams, their next playoff performances were much horrible (besides Moe):

  • Warren Jabali (1970-71): 8 Points, 4 Rebounds, 3 Assists

  • Gary Bradds (1969-70): 10 Points, 3 Rebounds, 1 Assist

  • Doug Moe (1969-70): 16 Points, 7 Rebounds, 6 Assists

Everybody on the Oaks played better in the playoffs than they did in the regular season. The only player that played worse was Jim Eakins, and it wasn't even by that much. In the regular season, he averaged 13/7/1, and in the playoffs, he averaged 12/6/1—just a one-point and one rebound difference.


Even though the Oakland Oaks would win the Championship, their time in the ABA ended. Pat Boone lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so he sold the team to Earl Foreman, who would relocate the Oaks to Washington D.C. and renamed them the Washington Capitols.


Rick Barry, Warren Jabali, and Gary Bradds would stay with the Oakland Oaks/Washington Capitols for the following season, but Doug Moe ended up on the Carolina Cougars. Even with Barry, Jabali, and Bradds, the Capitols would only go 44-40.

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